- By Eric Katz 4:35 PM ET
Lawmakers addressing the American Federation of Government Employees on Monday told union members to continue pressuring Congress to keep the federal workforce in mind when crafting and voting on legislation.
The union is holding its Legislative and Grassroots Mobilization Conference this week to educate their members, raise funds for the union and outline 2014 legislative priorities. Before lawmakers from both parties addressed the hundreds of feds in the crowd, AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. called his members to action, telling them to attend protests and rallies, write and call their members of Congress and recruit new employees to join the union.
“We’ve got to fight for a pay raise, and we’ve got to end furloughs and sequestration forever, for the survival of this country,” Cox said. “Not just this union, but the survival of this country.”
Cox fired up the crowd with a call and response of “Who are we/AFGE.”
Known for his feisty speeches, Cox said, “You’re damn right we’re AFGE, and we’re not taking crap from nobody, no more. We’re not gonna wallow in self-pity.” Cox added, “We’re gonna fight back and bargain better contracts. We don’t fear getting knocked down, brothers and sisters. We’re going to swing with both fists and we’re going to take it to Capitol Hill and whoop their ass, that’s what we’re gonna do!”
The attendees then heard from Rep. Tom Cole, Okla., a Republican with an Air Force base in his district and has expressed sympathy for federal employees.
“I’m a Republican,” Cole said. “I’m a conservative Republican so I can’t tell you we’re going to agree on every single issue. But I will tell you, I’ll never undervalue the work that you do.”
During his remarks, Cole referenced proposals to alter the contribution rate to retirement pensions for current federal employees. “I’ll never understand it — when you’re hired under one set of conditions, those conditions shouldn’t change,” he added. Cole called on AFGE members to invite members of Congress to show them what they do on a daily basis, to give tours of their agencies to help lawmakers visualize the goals of government and workers’ job duties. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the chairman of the Senate committee with oversight over the federal workforce, also expressed the importance of forcing members of Congress to recognize the service of executive branch employees.
“For any one of my colleagues who has ever described you as nameless, faceless bureaucrats,” Carper said, “I can just say, they can go to hell.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who has consistently been one of the biggest advocates for federal employees in Congress, told union members their actions play a key role in putting pressure on lawmakers. “When [AFGE leadership] is talking to a member of Congress, that member of Congress needs to know that behind what they’re saying, there is an army of people who are paying attention, and ready to back them up,” Van Hollen said. “Ready to hold members of Congress accountable.”
Van Hollen said AFGE can accomplish this by ensuring lawmakers follow through on their promises. While Cole told the attendees that federal employees had sacrificed enough, Van Hollen said AFGE members should pay close attention to ensure when House Republicans release their next budget that it “reflects that principle.”
After the speakers addressed the crowd, Cox told reporters he plans to use the midterm elections as a tool to hold lawmakers responsible. AFGE will organize its members in conjunction with local chapters of its parent union — the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations — to endorse candidates, knock on doors and staff phones.
To inform their endorsements, AFGE will look to a wide array of important 2013 votes as well as lawmakers’ views on outstanding issues such as restoring funding to agencies hardest hit by sequestration, canceling scheduled pension contribution hikes for new employees, locality pay equality for blue-collar workers and pay raises.
While the attention on undoing the pension cuts included in the December budget focused overwhelmingly on the military, Cox said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., recently expressed an interest to him in repealing the civilian cut as well.